‘With All Your Heart and With All Your Soul’
Moses foresaw his people’s rebellion and the eventual consequences. But he also foresaw that God would someday circumcise their hearts.
What started as a family moving from Canaan to Egypt to escape the ravages of a seven-year famine grew over time into the nation of Israel—the people to whom God revealed Himself and with whom He made a covenant at Mount Sinai.
This covenant was no trifling matter. It positioned Israel above all the nations on Earth, guaranteeing the Israelites God’s blessing and a special place in His economy if they accepted its requirements and obeyed its terms:
And Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’” (Ex. 19:3–6).
Today we refer to this contract as the Mosaic or Old Covenant. It revealed the demands of a holy, righteous, omnipotent God; taught people they were sinners; and impressed on them the fact that “it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul” (Lev. 17:11). But the Old Covenant had a shortcoming: It could not make anyone righteous. Nor could the Israelites keep it.
The Tripartite Agreement
As we look back over the millennia, we see that no nation on Earth has had the experiences with God that Israel had. The Israelites heard God’s voice and saw His presence at Mount Sinai:
Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice (Ex. 19:16, 18–19, emphasis added).
This was one of the greatest displays of God’s power and majesty in the history of creation. God spoke; and everyone heard Him declare, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (20:2).
God spoke the Ten Commandments, the first part of the tripartite Mosaic Covenant and the nucleus of all of Israel’s laws: civil, ceremonial, and moral:
1. Civil law told the Israelites how to govern themselves as a nation under God.
2. Ceremonial law told them how to worship God as a people.
3. Moral law told them God’s holy requirements for them nationally and as individuals.
Forty Years Later
Sadly, as punishment for a lack of faith, the generation that stood at Mount Sinai wandered in the wilderness for 40 years and died. As their descendants prepared to enter the Promised Land, Moses restated the requirement that they be loyal to God alone:
Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the LORD your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the LORD your God (Dt. 28:1–2).
Moses enumerated all the covenant blessings the Israelites would enjoy if they obeyed God (vv. 1–14) and all the curses they would experience if they did not (vv. 15–68). He warned them, “You shall be only oppressed and crushed continually. So you shall be driven mad because of the sight which your eyes see” (vv. 33–34). No nation in history has suffered more over a longer period of time than the Jewish people. Disobedience brought dispersion, persecution, and death. Moses foresaw his people’s rebelliousness and the eventual consequences; but he also foresaw that God would bring them back:
If any of you are driven out to the farthest parts under heaven, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you. Then the LORD your God will bring you to the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it. He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers. And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live (30:4–6).
A circumcised heart refers to the New Covenant. The prophet Jeremiah first used the words new covenant about 800 years later. While Jeremiah prophesied in Jerusalem, God used the prophet Ezekiel to tell the Jewish exiles in Babylon, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you” (Ezek. 36:26). Centuries later, Jesus declared, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many” (Mk. 14:24).
God Had a Plan
God established the sacrificial system to make His people aware of their sin and the fact that only blood could cleanse them. Unless an Israelite kept every point of the Law, he was cursed: “Cursed is the one who does not confirm all the words of this law by observing them,” Moses said (Dt. 27:26). The Law could only condemn because no one could keep it perfectly.
The Mosaic Law “made nothing perfect” (Heb. 7:19). It couldn’t make sinners righteous or cleanse them permanently from sin, which is why animal sacrifices were never-ending. They covered sin temporarily and had to be offered over and over again.
However, God is always searching for those whose hearts are loyal to Him (2 Chr. 16:9). Israelites who acknowledged their sin, genuinely loved God, and brought their sacrifices with repentant hearts received His acceptance: “On this one will I look,” God said. “On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word” (Isa. 66:2). “The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit” (Ps. 34:18).
Today, when people understand what Jesus accomplished for them and repent and place their faith in Him, God removes their sin and gives them His righteousness (Phil. 3:9)—something the Old Covenant could not do. He writes His law on their hearts, “not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart” (2 Cor. 3:3).
Approximately 40 years ago, someone brought a young Orthodox Jewish man named Michael to church. Michael knew he was a sinner. He had tried earnestly to keep the Mosaic Law but couldn’t. Wretched in his sin, he listened as the pastor explained how Jesus became the final sacrifice for sin. No longer did Michael have to torment himself trying to keep the Law. Jesus had kept it for him, then willingly gave Himself as Michael’s final sacrifice. He then arose from the dead because He is God. All Michael had to do was believe.
Michael said when the pastor gave the altar call, he jumped up from his seat and bolted down the aisle to receive Christ as his Savior. He was set free, and he has been walking with the Lord ever since.
God’s plan has always been to deal with sin by sending His Son, the divine Messiah of Israel, to become the final sacrifice. Through Him, God initiated the New Covenant He promised His people Israel, making Jesus “the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4).
The Old Covenant served its purpose. The New Covenant is better, and God makes it available not to Jews only, but to all who place their faith in the Jewish Messiah.